What to Do (& Not Do) When Your Car Overheats

Car Overheats

As a driver, there are few things more stressful than watching your car’s temperature gauge creep up toward the “H” mark. Overheating can be a serious issue, potentially leading to costly repairs or even a totaled vehicle. That’s why it’s important to know what to do (and what not to do) when your car starts to overheat.

Signs Your Car Is Overheating

Before we dive into what you should do when your car overheats, let’s talk about how to recognize the problem. Here are some common signs that your car’s engine is running too hot:

  • Warning lights: Many modern cars are equipped with a temperature warning light that will illuminate when the engine is getting too hot. Keep an eye out for this light on your dashboard, and take action if it comes on.
  • Steam or smoke coming from under the hood: If you see steam or smoke billowing out from under your car’s hood, that’s a sure sign that your engine is overheating. Pull over and turn off the engine immediately.
  • Unusual smells or sounds: If you notice a sweet, syrupy smell or hear strange noises coming from the engine compartment, that could be a sign that your car is overheating.

What to Do When Your Car Overheats

If you notice any of the signs listed above, it’s important to take action right away. Here’s what you should do (in order) when your car starts to overheat:

Pull over safely: The first step is to get your car off the road as soon as possible. Look for a safe spot to pull over, preferably somewhere with shade.

Turn off the engine: Once you’ve pulled over, turn off the engine to prevent any further damage.

Wait for the engine to cool down: It’s important to let the engine cool down for at least 30 minutes before attempting any further action.

Check the coolant level and add more if needed: If you’re comfortable doing so, check the coolant level in your car’s radiator. If it’s low, add more coolant (or water, if that’s all you have available). Be careful not to add cold water to a hot engine, as this can cause further damage.

Check for leaks or other issues: While you’re waiting for the engine to cool down, take a look under the hood to see if you can spot any obvious issues. Check for leaks, broken hoses, or other signs of damage.

Call for help if necessary: If you’re unable to diagnose or fix the problem yourself, it’s time to call for professional help. A tow truck or roadside assistance service can help you get your car to a mechanic for repairs.

What Not to Do When Your Car Overheats

In addition to knowing what to do when your car overheats, it’s also important to know what not to do. Here are some common mistakes to avoid:

Don’t keep driving: If your car is overheating, it’s not safe to keep driving. Continuing to drive can cause further damage to the engine, and could even lead to a fire or explosion.

Don’t try to open the radiator cap: The radiator cap is under a lot of pressure when the engine is hot. Trying to remove it yourself can result in serious burns from hot coolant or steam.

Don’t add cold water to a hot engine: Adding cold water to a hot engine can cause the metal parts to warp or crack, leading to even more damage.

Don’t attempt to fix the problem yourself if you’re not experienced: Unless you’re a trained mechanic, it’s best to leave.

If you are unable to find a safe place to pull over or if you are in a dangerous location, do not hesitate to call for assistance. Contacting a roadside assistance service or a towing company can help you avoid putting yourself in harm’s way while you wait for help to arrive.

In conclusion, an overheating car can be a scary and frustrating experience, but it’s important to stay calm and take the proper steps to address the issue. By understanding the warning signs, taking preventative measures, and knowing what to do in case of an emergency, you can avoid costly repairs and potentially dangerous situations. Remember to always prioritize your safety and the safety of those around you. If you are unsure of what to do or if the problem seems too severe, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.


Is it OK to drive a car after it overheats?

No, it is not safe to continue driving a car after it overheats. Doing so can cause serious damage to the engine and other components, and could even lead to a dangerous situation such as a fire or explosion. It’s important to immediately pull over to a safe location and address the issue before continuing to drive.

How do you cool down an overheated car?

One way to cool down an overheated car is to turn off the engine and let it cool down on its own. You can also turn on the heater and fan to help dissipate some of the heat. If you have access to water, you can pour it over the radiator to help cool it down. However, it’s important to never attempt to remove the radiator cap while the engine is hot, as this can cause serious burns.

What are 3 simple things to check if your car is overheating?

  • Check the coolant level: Make sure that the coolant level is adequate and that there are no leaks in the system. If the coolant level is low, it could indicate a leak or other issue that needs to be addressed.
  • Check the radiator: Inspect the radiator for any damage, such as cracks or leaks. Also, make sure that the radiator fins are clean and free of debris, as this can prevent the radiator from effectively cooling the engine.
  • Check the thermostat: The thermostat is responsible for regulating the engine temperature, so if it’s not functioning properly, it can cause the engine to overheat. Check to make sure that the thermostat is working correctly and replace it if necessary.